Behind the Headlines: Is a rapid prostate test on the way?

A three-minute test for prostate cancer could save thousands of lives a year, newspapers report. By Lauren Trisk

Prostate cancer affects 34,000 new patients every year in the UK
Prostate cancer affects 34,000 new patients every year in the UK

Prostate cancer is the most common malignancy in British men. Each year, it affects 34,000 new patients and kills 10,000 men.

The test involves measuring levels of citrate in a diluted sample of prostate fluid, which is obtained via a small biopsy.

The sample can then be analysed to measure citrate levels using a portable device.

Citrate levels are known to decrease in prostate cancer.

What is the research?
The test was developed by a team of researchers from the University of Durham and the University of Maryland. To date, the results have been verified in a test group of 20 volunteer patients. The researchers now plan to examine samples from 200 volunteers.

The test could be available in five years' time at a cost of £10. The researchers believe it could replace the current PSA test, which has a low specificity and takes up to two weeks to process.

What do the researchers say?
Professor David Parker, lead researcher at the University of Durham, said: 'It's been a complex process to develop the technique but we're very optimistic about it.

'Ultimately, this could provide an accurate method of screening for prostate cancer in men that could be carried out in three minutes once a biopsy has been obtained from the patient at a hospital outpatient department,' he said.

Professor Leslie Costello of the University of Maryland commented: 'Since citrate concentrations decrease markedly early in malignancy, this technique makes it possible to analyse what is happening quickly in the early and treatable stage of prostate cancer.

'It shows much promise as a clinical tool.'

What do other researchers say?
John Neate, chief executive of The Prostate Cancer Charity, said: 'This is early stage research, with the citrate levels of only 20 samples being tested.'

The main benefit of this new test would be speed, he said. However, he added: 'The full biopsy results would still be necessary to confirm whether a man has an aggressive or non-aggressive form of the disease.'

Mr Neate also questioned whether the invasive nature of the test would prevent it being acceptable as a broad screening tool in practice.

He concluded: 'The researchers hope to be able to refine the test by using samples of seminal fluid which may be easier to obtain. If this were the case, it would be easier to see how this test could take a useful place in clinical practice.'

  • Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry 2009; 7: 1,525-28

Informing Patients

  • A three-minute test for prostate cancer may be available within the next five years.
  • The test involves taking a sample of fluid from the prostate gland with a small needle.
  • Researchers hope to refine the test so that it uses semen, thus avoiding the need for a biopsy.
  • If prostate cancer were diagnosed, more invasive tests would be needed to determine the nature of the cancer.

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